August 1, 2013 in Tips & Lessons

Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze

hendrixstratJimi Hendrix was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. He has inspired many guitarists and musical performers including Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and more. He has received numerous music awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

About the song

Hendrix found success after moving to England to team up with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Purple Haze was the second single off of the band’s 1967 album Are You Experienced. It was written ten days after the release of their debut single Hey Joe.

Purple Haze was known as the one of the psychedelic drug songs of the 60s. Hendrix, however, denied that the song had anything to do with drugs, particularly LSD, which was popular at that time. Hendrix said that the song was a reference to a dream. The dream was inspired by Phillip Jose Farmer’s sci-fi novel Night of Light: Day of Dreams, where the phrase “purplish haze” was used.

In the dream, Hendrix was surrounded by a purple haze, getting lost and subsequently being saved by his faith in Jesus Christ. This explains why the original lyrics to the chorus contained the phrase “Purple haze, Jesus saves.” Of course, Hendrix changed the lyrics before the song was recorded. He also added the famous line, “Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me,” perhaps making Purple Haze a love song.

Aside from its interestingly vague lyrics, the thing that really made this song so iconic was Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar playing. Purple Haze is known for its use of the “Hendrix Chord” which is a dominant 7 #9 that is often used in jazz. The powerful intro and creative solo took guitar playing to a level that it had never been before. The song has influenced just about anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar.

Here is a video of The Jimi Hendrix Experience playing Purple Haze:

Playing Purple Haze

Surprisingly, for as revolutionary as Purple Haze was, it isn’t very difficult. It is based on an Em pentatonic scale played using a “Hendrix Grip” on the barre chord. The Hendrix Grip involved wrapping your thumb around the back of the neck to play the bass note of the chord. This frees your ring and pinky fingers to play other notes.

The intro starts with a really simple octave riff using just two notes. That leads right into the main riff of the song. The trick to playing Henrix songs is not necessarily in mastering the notes, but mastering the style. Hitting each of the notes cleanly is not what Hendrix was known for. He was known for his distortion and the way he slides into notes, bends notes, and embellishes with hammer-ons. This is where real guitar playing is developed, and it can only be done through lots of practice.

When you get to the solo, things appear to get more complicated, however it is based on the same riff, there are just more variations. Once you learn which variations go where, it actually comes together easier than you might expect.

Here is a good video to get you started learning Purple Haze:

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